Stories

The comet – pt. 3

“REPENT! Repent, I say, in the name of the Lord!”

I finally wander out onto the street after a week, and the first thing I encounter is this fool? He looks a bit wild eyed, a little disheveled, like he hasn’t slept in days, certainly not in a bed.

I’m one to talk. My clothes are filthy. I’m sure I’ve been wearing them for a month. I think I pissed myself, but I’m not sure. Maybe when I was nodded in a dark corner, someone pissed on me? But that must have been a few days ago by now. And I stink. Really bad.

Though I’ve been in a dark hole, literally, it’s not like I haven’t seen the news. Yeah it’s a dope house. But this is the twenty-first century, and even dope houses have flat screen TVs. Plus I’ve got my iPhone. It’s a little dated, but it still works. I’ve got a constant news feed. And Candy Crush. A real modern man.

“You there! Have you given your life to Christ?” I’ve seen guys like him before, on city street corners, standing on a soap box, preaching to the birds. But today something’s different. People are standing around, listening to him, like he has something to say. At least a dozen or so, maybe fifteen.

“I said, have you given your life to Christ?” He had gotten off his soap box, and was standing in front of me, speaking directly to me. I was a bit startled, and didn’t know how to respond. Everyone was looking at me.

“I’m not sure what you want from me,” I croaked. My throat was dry, and I realized I hadn’t spoken in days. I really had no idea what he meant. I’d spent my whole life avoiding questions like this one. And now, when confronted face to face, with witnesses no less, I didn’t know how to respond.

“What’s your name, Son?” He spoke calmly. He looked me directly in my eyes. His eyes were deep, like saucers. There was a peace there that I hadn’t noticed before.

“Tommy. Tommy Paterson.”

“Well, Tommy, the end is nigh. You know that. It’s time to make a choice. Are you going to die with the devil, or are you ready to live again, with Jesus Christ?” His voice was soothing, even hypnotic.

I was about to give in. A dog barked nearby, and it broke the spell. Suddenly I looked at my phone, and with a bit more confidence, I said, “Look, I’ve got to go now. And anyways, I’ve got 734 days to decide.” With that, I walked away. Quickly.

“Well don’t wait forever, Tommy!” he called after me, “You could still get hit by a bus, and you don’t want to burn in hell for eternity because you waited too long to make a decision!”

Darlene loved Hawaii. Almost as much as she loved her job. She was spending her afternoons on the beach, working on her tan. And nights were even better. As a Planetary Scientist, on loan to NASA, from MIT, she was working on a study, comparing gas giants, their density, composition, size, and age. She had a theory, but more than anything, she loved looking at the sky. And the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, at an elevation of 4,145 meters, provided one of the premier looks at the night sky of anywhere on the Earth.

Dr. Darlene Benjamin. She had completed her doctoral studies last fall. And now she was a full fledged scientist, working for NASA. Well, on temporary assignment, anyways. Not bad for a girl from Omaha.

Dr. Benjamin spent a good amount of time looking at the sky. She had a list of over two hundred known gas giants she wanted to observe. There was no way she would complete her study in the three weeks she’d been allotted on the telescope. Which was fine with her. That just meant she’d have to come back. She still couldn’t believe her good fortune, to get three weeks of telescope time. But it was June, and the primary scientist was leaving on vacation, so she’d gotten the call. Where did someone go on vacation from Hawaii? Apparently Greece was as good an answer as any.

She always arrived by 10pm. But the real work never started until about midnight. She would program the coordinates of the planets she wished to observe that night. And the telescope would automatically turn and follow the planets, taking in and recording all the required data. Darlene didn’t spend too much time analyzing. That would take months. No, she spent her time alternating between looking at the sky, and checking to make sure all the data was being recorded accurately.

A little after one a.m. a small patch of sky caught her eye. She wasn’t sure why. Darlene had spent her whole life looking at the sky. And she knew that if something was attracting her attention, she’d better look twice.

At 1:23 she saw it. A slight blur. It wasn’t there moments before, and now it was. She was recording everything, ever the scientist. She felt that excitement of discovery in her belly. She had no idea how it was about to change her life.

“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take. God, please bless Mommy, and Daddy, and baby Susie. Please bless the comet, that it decides not to destroy the Earth, and it goes somewhere else instead. Amen.”

“Amen. That was a beautiful prayer, Samuel.”

“Daddy, why did the comet decide to destroy the Earth? Were we bad?”

“Sammy, the comet doesn’t decide anything. It is just an object. Given enough time, it becomes a certainty that an object, maybe something big, like the comet, would hit the Earth. We just happen to be the unlucky ones who are alive at this time, and get to feel the effects.”

“That doesn’t make any sense to me, Daddy. For something so terrible to happen, and for it to be by chance. No, I think the comet is sent here for a reason. I think it must be destroying the Earth on purpose.”

“Did you hear someone say that? Wherever did you come up with such an idea?”

“I thought of it in my own head, Daddy. I think the comet knows what it’s doing.”

“No, Son. The comet does not think. It does not feel. It is a mindless thing. It has no idea it’s going to hit us, and materially alter both our realities. Now go to sleep.”

“Good night, Daddy. I love you.”

“Good night Sam. You really are something. Love you, too.”

As he left his son’s room, almost closing the door, but not quite, Dr. Neil Fitzpatrick wondered about what Samuel has said. And why would the little boy think such things?

He was still wondering that same thing when he appeared on CNN at ten p.m. later that night in a round-table discussion on the state of the comet.

One thought kept coming back to him: “Out of the mouths of babes.”

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